Learn how to make sauerkraut with garlic and dill for a tasty treat. This fermented cabbage recipe is one that will keep for months in the fridge or in cold room storage.
I first learned to ferment food by helping my MIL make a traditional Russian sauerkraut. And embarrassingly enough, I actually broke her 5 gallon crock while pounding the cabbage with a baseball bat.
It didn’t affect the flavor though. And apparently it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for fermented sauerkraut. Because my love for it is still going strong today!
The variety we made that day consisted of cabbage, carrots, onion and caraway seed. But recipe I want to share with you today is plainer and primarily made up of cabbage.
Lots of cabbage and a bit of garlic with dill seed sprinkled in, of course.
And salt! You can’t make sauerkraut without salt.
Enough rambling. Let’s get into this!
How is Sauerkraut Traditionally Made?
It depends on who you talk to and where they’ve come from! Some folks think particular types of cabbage make better kraut. Others think adding extra vegetables or seed is the only way to go. And still others think the vessel you use for fermenting is important.
Fact is, sauerkraut has been around for centuries, and each culture has a different way of doing it. Which tells you there really isn’t one way to make a delicious batch of fermented sauerkraut!
But regardless of where it originated, all sauerkraut is made with cabbage as a primarily ingredient.
Here’s how sauerkraut is traditionally made.
- Harvest fresh cabbage from the garden or get it fresh at the market.
- Finely slice your cabbage and grate or dice all other vegetables.
- Layer cabbage with salt in a stoneware crock.
- Let it sit for about an hour so salt can draw out juices, or speed the process by massaging cabbage with your hands (or even pounding it with a wooden stick) to help release moisture.
- Mix in other vegetables, fruit or seeds
- Pat it all down in your crock.
- If needed, top with a salt water to fully submerge all the cabbage pieces.
- Add a weight to your open crock, making sure all the the cabbage is submerged.
- Tie a cloth cover over the mouth of your crock.
- Leave it to ferment in a room with moderate temperatures.
- Ferment for 21+ days, checking the surface often and removing any floating bits that appear.
- Cover kraut with a lid and put it into your cold room or root cellar where it will store for months.
Of course, this is a very basic overview of a traditional process that isn’t very specific and varies from culture to culture. 🙂
While some sauerkraut recipes have lots of other vegetables added in, the particular recipe I want to share you with today is very simple. Here are the ingredients you need!
Tools and Equipment You’ll Need
- cutting board
- large knife
- big mixing bowl
- measuring spoons
- fermenting container of choice (see options below)
Best Fermenting Containers for Sauerkraut
There are many different types of containers you can choose from. Here is a list of containers you can use for fermenting your sauerkraut.
Glass Canning Jars
You can ferment sauerkraut in a wide or small mouth jar, with or without a lid.
No lid? You’ll want some weights (small mouth weights or wide mouth weights) to hold the cabbage under the juices, so mold doesn’t grow! Be sure to cover the top with a cloth to keep fruit flies away.
If you’re ok with softer sauerkraut, you can use old canning lids and bands (just be sure to burp the jar often). For firm and crunchy kraut, get air lock lids for your wide mouth jars! These are ideal if you struggle with mold appearing on ferments in your home.
Stoneware Crock with Weight
Traditionally, folks used open mouth stoneware crocks for fermenting their cabbage into a delicious sauerkraut! And you can still do so today.
Stoneware crocks are made to last and will likely outlive you. Provided you don’t pound your kraut with a metal baseball bat (like I did). If you do pound your kraut, use a wooden one!
A Plastic, Food Grade Pail
That’s right! You can ferment your cabbage in a bucket, if you so desire! Just be sure to find yourself some kind of weight to help keep cabbage submerged. Better yet, lay some large cabbage leaves on top of your sliced cabbage and weight them down. They’ll keep tiny bits of cabbage from floating to the surface.
German Water Locking Crock
I discovered German style water locking crocks about 10 years ago and just love, love, love them. Unlike some air lock fermenting containers, German style crocks can’t be ruined by bumping a strange stack coming out of your lid.
Instead, these beautiful crocks have a little moat that their sturdy lids sit in. To make it air tight, all you have to do is add water to the moat. And presto!
You have a perfect seal.
Primitively clever, isn’t it?
Lids themselves have a tiny notch in the rim, where oxygen can escape into the moat of water. You hear a funny bloop every time one is released!
I’ve tried fermenting kraut a number of ways and every time, the German style crock wins. They make the most delightfully flavored, crisp and crunchy sauerkraut.
1.3 gallon water locking crock (currently on my wish list!)
3 gallon blue and white German style crock (the one I use for big batches of kraut in the fall!)
How to Make Sauerkraut with Dill and Garlic
Measure your salt and dry dill seed into a small bowl. Peel garlic cloves and finely mince or press.
Take your cabbage head and peel off a few of the outer layers, until you reach parts that are firm and crisp. Halve the cabbage and cut out the tough core, then finely slice the halves into thin strips that are about 1/8-1/4 inch wide.
Or whatever size you prefer. It really doesn’t matter.
Put a 2 inch layer of cabbage strips in your mixing bowl or crock. Sprinkle the top with a bit of salt and dill seed. Add some garlic.
Slice more cabbage and add to bowl. Top with salt/dill/garlic.
Keep slicing and layering cabbage in the bowl with salt and garlic until you’re done.
At this point, you can cover the cabbage with a clean cloth and let it sit while the salt draws out the juices. Or, you can lightly crush it with your hands for a few minutes to help release moisture. Better yet, you can just pack it into your fermenting containers and top it off with a salt water brine.
Regardless of which method you use, juices should cover the cabbage when you firmly pack it into your fermenting container.
If there’s not enough moisture, go ahead and make a light salt water brine by adding 1 teaspoon of salt to every 1 cup of water. Add to your jar until cabbage is covered by 1/4 inch or so.
When you’re using an open mouth container, you should add weights to help keep the kraut submerged. If your’e using a mason jar, you can cover it with a fermenting lid, or just a canning lid and band.
Personally? I prefer to use a German style, water locking crock. See mine above?
Let your cabbage ferment for 10-21 days in a place that is between 60F-75F (16C-24C).
After this, you can transfer to storage containers (like large jars) and chill in a cold room, root cellar or your refrigerator.
How to Store and Preserve Homemade Sauerkraut
As with most fermented foods, it’s easy to preserve homemade sauerkraut! All you need is a food grade storage container with a lid (I like using half gallon jars) and a refrigerator or cold room.
The good bacteria in sauerkraut will keep it food safe for 6-8 months (or more) if kept cool.
When I make kraut in the summer, I store it in my refrigerator. But when I make it in the fall with the last of the green cabbages from the garden? I tuck the finished jars of kraut away in our cold room. And we eat from the jars until spring!
What type of container should I ferment my sauerkraut in?
It’s totally up to you. I prefer the German style water locking crock, but you can use just about any food grade container you have on hand.
Side note? If you have mold in your home, don’t do an open fermenting container with weights. Get an air locking system, and you’ll have much better luck!
What kind of salt is best for sauerkraut?
The salt you use for fermenting should be non-iodized. A quality sea salt or Himalayan salt will help get the right bacteria started for fermentation and food safety.
Do you need to add vinegar to sauerkraut?
Nope! Vinegar is just another by-product of fermentation. It’s just fermented fruit juice (learn how to make your own vinegar here!) The salt and natural air borne bacteria on the skin of your cabbage are all you need to successfully make a delicious and healthy sauerkraut.
What can I add to sauerkraut for flavor?
There are so many things you can add to sauerkraut for additional flavor! In this recipe, the garlic and dill seed brings depth to this fermented dish. But you can add any of the following.
Seeds & Herbs
Often you’ll find traditional recipes calling for the addition of caraway, dill and fennel seed. You can use anything your heart desires!
It’s not uncommon to find kraut recipes that call for an addition of beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, garlic, onions, radishes and turnips. Sometimes, you’ll even find horseradish or ginger root. As long as the vegetable is firm and won’t go to mush when fermented, it can be used.
Apples are often added to fermented sauerkraut recipes. They take on a special tang and are delicious when combined with beets and ginger root. Some folks even add berries to their kraut, though I’ve never dove into that world!
How to tell if my sauerkraut is ready?
There are two different ways to look at this question. First, you have to ask yourself what do I want my sauerkraut for: immediate eating or food storage?
If making kraut you plan to eat right away, it’s ready when you’re happy with the flavor profile! So taste test it every few days once it starts smelling sour. When you’re happy with it, chill it.
Are you making a ton of sauerkraut for cold food storage? You’ll probably want to ferment your kraut for no more than 21 days.
Here’s why. The good bacteria in your sauerkraut will continue to slowly work, even in cold temperatures. This means your cabbage will become more sour as time goes on.
So for long term storage (6 months or so) I’ve found that I prefer to ferment my cabbage about 14 days or until gasses stop being released from my German style fermenting crock.
From there, it goes into jars and directly into my cold room.
How can you tell if your sauerkraut has gone bad?
This one is easy! Really easy!
If you see something growing on the surface of your cabbage (like black or blue fuzz), it’s molding. If the kraut texture changes and turns slimy, the wrong bacteria has taken over. And if you open it up and find a putrid, off smell instead of a sharp fermented aroma, throw it out, honey!
The signs are clear. You really can’t miss it when it does turn on you!
Cabbage Sauerkraut with Dill and Garlic
- cutting board
- large knife
- mixing bowl
- measuring spoons
- fermenting crock, jar or pail
- 3 heads green cabbage (2 lbs ea or 907 g ea)
- 4 tablespoons sea or Himalayan salt
- 6 peeled garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons dill seed
- Measure out your salt and dill seed. Mix together in a small bowl.
- Peel garlic and press or finely mince. Set aside.
- Remove outer leaves from cabbage heads, until you find firm, crisp flesh.
- Cut heads in half and remove the hard core.
- Finely cut cabbages into 1/8 to 1/4 inch slices.
- Put down a 2 inch layer of slices in your bowl or crock and lightly sprinkle with a portion of your salt and dill mixture. Add more cabbage and another layer of salt.
- Repeat, until cabbage and salt has been used up.
- Options: 1) You can let cabbage sit for 1-2 hours and hope the salt will draw out juices.2) Or you can lightly crunch cabbage with your hands to release liquid. 3) It's fastest to pack cabbage directly into your jar/s, pail or fermenting crock and top with salt water (1 teaspoon salt to every 1 cup water used).
- When packing cabbage into fermenting container, leave 3-4 inches of open space at the top, so things won't bubble over when good bacteria starts working.
- If there isn't enough liquid to cover cabbage, you can make a brine by mixing 1 teaspoon of salt to every 1 cup of water. Add to fermenting container until liquid rises 1/4-1/2 inch above cabbage.
- Add lid or weight and leave cabbage to ferment for 14-21 days. Test often to check flavor.
- When you're happy with it, pack your sauerkraut into mason jars and cover with tight fitting lids.
- Transfer sauerkraut to your refrigerator or cold room to slow fermenting process and keep the crisp texture.
- Will keep 6-8 months.